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How to use Slack for virtual events

The second post in a series on how we used Slack, Zoom and EventGeek to run Reboot 2020, a virtual conference on adapting to the Coronavirus challenge.

Slack is a powerful tool for virtual event organizers. It's designed for maximum engagement with minimal onboarding. It enables attendees to jump in and engage in real-time conversation with extremely low friction. It enables organizers to ignite a community and direct their attention. Slack makes it easy to get attendee engagement at virtual events.

At Reboot 2020, a full-day virtual conference, we chose Slack to power our attendee networking. The results were definitely positive. The day was filled with 😍 and fun GIFs. Nearly 50% of Reboot 2020 attendees posted a message on Slack and about 10% posted over 20 messages. Compared to the typical  event app, the metrics are impressive. And there's another benefit to using Slack for virtual events... it's free!

You can use Slack with cost-effective webinar tools like Zoom. (Stay tuned for how used Zoom in the next post in this series.) Or you can use Slack on its own for an ongoing customer community, a use case that's so popular there's now even a list of the top 400 Slack communities. Even if you have a very large community or event with thousands of attendees, Slack doesn't charge unless you want to access more than the most recent 10,0000 messages. There's no limit on how many attendees or users you can add on Slack's free plan.

In this post we share tips for how to set up a Slack workspace like we did for Reboot 2020.

  • Use EventGeek for virtual event registration
  • Create a private Admin channel
  • Set name & email display preferences
  • Restrict permissions to Admins
  • Create channels for content tracks, sessions & sponsors
  • Set up channels for #intros, #pitches and #coffee-breaks
  • Designate view-only channels for Announcements
  • Post Community Guidelines
  • Install the Giphy Slack App
  • Install a polling or survey app
  • Create a virtual "floor plan"
  • Greet people with real people 👋

Following these steps, you can use Slack to power more effective attendee networking than you'd get from the typical conference app.

Use EventGeek for virtual event registration

Shameless plug alert! But this step is really very important. The biggest challenge with using Slack for virtual events is that Slack makes it a bit too easy to join a workspace. If you allow members to invite other members or publish a sign up link, then people can sign up for your event workspace with a personal or Gmail address and bypass your registration. You also can't add custom fields to Slack's sign up, for example to capture company name or qualification questions unique to your business.

Fortunately, EventGeek has developed a solution to this limitation of using Slack for virtual events: customizable registration forms that you can use to send Slack invitations.

You can customize EventGeek's new registration forms with any type of question, from simple text field to conditional picklist, and require visitors to register for virtual events using a company email address.

Create a private Admin channel

Create a private #Admin channel and invite your event team. This should be your go-to space for your event team when planning and troubleshooting any issues.

Set name & email display preferences

We chose to hide attendees' email address and display their full names at Reboot 2020, but you can set these differently.

Restrict permissions to admins

Slack offers a lot of options for managing workspaces.

  • Using @everyone and @channel
  • Approving invitations
  • Creating & archiving public & private channels
  • Profile customization
  • Install & manage Slack apps

For an external event, most of these should be restricted to admins.

Create channels for content tracks, sessions & sponsors

At Reboot 2020, we had separate channels for each breakout session, as well as a #main-stage for keynote speakers. If your virtual event has multiple tracks and sessions, separate channels can help to keep conversation focused.

Set up channels for #intros, #pitches and #coffee-breaks

When joining Reboot 2020, attendees could introduce themselves in #intros, get oriented in the #lobby and network with other attendees during #coffee-breaks. The #pitches and Community Guidelines set clear expectations on where it was ok to pitch.

Shout out to Salesforce.org for sponsoring the #coffee-break channel and fostering some really interesting discussions about the events industry!

Designate view-only channels for Announcements

In #general and in the #lobby, only Admins could post. This made it easier for attendees to find essential event information, like the schedule and Zoom links. (The next post in this series covers using Zoom for virtual events.)

Apps like Kyber and Message Scheduler enable Admins to schedule announcements in different channels. At Reboot 2020, we used these to send reminders 15 minutes before each session started

Post Community Guidelines

We wrote up a code of conduct for our attendees at Reboot 2020 and posted to #general to make sure things ran smoothly and help avoid any conduct issues.

Install the Giphy Slack App

Giphy is the leading GIF site on the net and their Slack app does not disappoint.

Install a survy app

Polly, Kyber and EasyPoll make great Slacks apps for polling and attendee surveys. We used these at Reboot 2020 to ask attendees about virtual events and instantly share the results.

Create a virtual "floor plan"

We created a virtual floor plan for Reboot 2020, which helped attendees visually understand the different session and networking channels. It was a hit!

Create a private #VIP channel

A private channel for speakers and VIPs is a great way to connect with community influencers and make them feel a bit special.

Greet people with real people 👋

One of the best things we did for Reboot 2020 was hire a team of event managers who were looking to add virtual event experience to their resumes.

In addition to assisting with Zoom production (see our next post in this series), the Reboot Staff team of Karlena, Alicia, Jevon and Patricia helped to greet every new visitor with emoji love bombs. 

As more attendees began to join Slack workspace than we could greet, a magical thing happened. Attendees began to greet each other and the positive energy took on a life of its own.

Bottom line: Slack boosts attendee engagement at virtual events

Slack is designed primarily for internal teams, so setting it up for virtual events does take a few extra steps, detailed above.

The extra effort was definitely worth it for Reboot 2020, but your mileage may vary and likely depends on your attendees' Slack savvy and attention span.

We did hear from a few attendees that they found it distracting and wanted more of a "lean-back" webinar experience, where participation was invited but less central to the virtual event experience.

We definitely get that and share an interest in more focused virtual experiences. However, the reality for most folks is that we live busy, multi-tasking lives, especially while working from home, with kids and dogs playing in the next room.

Slack's desktop app made it easier for attendees to multi-task. With the desktop app open, they could keep an eye on the conference chat for interesting posts while watching a session or attending a work meeting on Zoom and researching sites on the web.

Slack on its own takes a bit of work to set up and, like any conference, the experience is only as good as the content and connections, but we have to hand it to Slack for helping us to re-engage Reboot attendees throughout their busy day.